T-Shirt Outrages ED Twitter Activists

Posted by on Jun 24, 2014

The sale of an allegedly “pro-eating disorder” t-shirt caused an outcry on Twitter today, raising alarm across the eating disorder community.

Early this morning, Twitter user Kristin Foster (@KristinEff) posted a friend’s picture of the t-shirt, which prompted hundreds of outraged tweets:

A t-shirt sold by Hudson's Bay caused outrage on Twitter. (@KristinEff)

A t-shirt sold by Hudson’s Bay caused outrage on Twitter. (Kristin Foster, @KristinEff)

The t-shirt, which was being sold by Toronto-based retailer Hudson’s Bay, featured a phrase that is infamous among ED sufferers, professionals, and supporters.

The phrase comes from a 2009 interview with model Kate Moss in Women’s Wear Daily. Asked if she had a personal motto, Moss responded, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Among the more sinister outcomes of the interview has been the motto’s adoption by “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” communities. Under the guise of solidarity, these online groups promote eating disorder behaviors by glamorizing emaciated women (posting pictures known as “thinspiration”), casting EDs as choices, not illnesses, and even teaching dangerous ED behaviors.

The t-shirt’s creator, Canadian-born Christopher Lee Sauvé, issued a response to the uproar on his Tumblr. He argued that the shirt was not meant to be pro-anorexia. Instead, the 0-calorie nutrition label is supposed to spotlight the ridiculousness of Moss’s statement and thus protest both her remark and the fashion industry in general.

Sauvé has the right to protest freely about the fashion industry. And indeed, other artists have gone to more extreme lengths to get their points across. However, the problem here is that not many of us automatically construe a t-shirt as an art medium. Typically, clothing is regarded as a means of self-expression. Garments display on the outside the values or moods we hold on the inside. Chic, bohemian, preppy, hipster, glamorous—our styles can reflect something about our personalities and our core selves. That’s not to say that artists (or even consumers) do not use clothing to also make cultural or political points. But, by and large, most of us wear clothes that reflect our personal styles.

At the very least, Sauvé was bound to confuse people by using a piece of clothing to make his point. As a result, Twitter responded immediately and vehemently with outrage over what seemed like a personal statement. This statement smacked of the thin ideal, an attitude that already pervades our culture without any help from the retail industry.

Perhaps Sauvé was going for irony when he chose clothing as the medium for his alleged protest. Clothing actually plays a big role in eating disorders and recovery. Eating disorder sufferers often wear baggy clothing to hide their weight changes or to conceal a body of which they feel ashamed. Part of recovery requires making peace with clothing. You learn to buy clothing that fits your body, not fit your body to a certain clothing size. You begin to wear clothes in which you feel comfortable, rather than using it as a way to fade from view.

So yes, maybe the t-shirt was ironic. But given the nature of what he is protesting, I think “ironic” is a rather generous way to describe it. Something along the lines of “cruel” is more apt. Would a liquor bottle be the appropriate vehicle to state, “Nothing Lifts Your Spirits Like Being Drunk” (as a caution against alcohol dependence, of course…)? Is a cancer ward the most suitable place to sell cigarettes?

Granted, none of those actions directly cause harm—you don’t need to purchase alcohol at the bidding of a label, or smoke a cigarette because it’s available, or follow a t-shirt’s advice simply because it’s stated in boldface black-and-white. But for those who do suffer from one of these ailments, I think, at the very least, some sensitivity toward their suffering is warranted.

And so, barring a very forgiving consumer, it’s not a huge leap to include Sauvé’s t-shirt within the pro-eating disorder canon. Its motto promotes a dangerous attitude by linking food intake and weight gain, and exalting thinness over both of these.

Taken this way, the t-shirt is blatant “thinspiration.”

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The t-shirt grabbed the attention of Brian Cuban, brother of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and an authority on eating disorders in men.

Happily, at 12:30 p.m., Hudson’s Bay tweeted that it would remove the t-shirt from its website and its stores:

outrageAnother victory for Twitter activists.

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4 Comments

  1. I was recommended this web site by my cousin. I’m not sure whether
    this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about
    my problem. You are incredible! Thanks!

    • Hi Sarah,

      As far as I know, I’m not your cousin 😉 But you bring up something interesting about eating disorders: Even though each one of us is a unique individual, and our eating disorders developed for very different reasons, the EDs end up looking *remarkably* similar. That just goes to show how much of an illness it is (as opposed to something voluntary, or a “phase”). And in a way, the fact that all of us can relate so much to each other helps us to connect and feel less alone — and that is key to healing.

      Be well, Sarah. Let me know how you are doing!
      Joanna